London is packed full of music history. A smart music fan can easily find the café where Band/Live Aid was created, where Bob Dylan created one of the first ever music videos, and the pub where Freddie Mercury once took Princess Diana for a pint dressed as a police officer.
But much of this history is hidden. There are some blue plaques celebrating the Ziggy Stardust door near Regent's Street or the site of the original Marquee Club, but it's difficult to find without an expert.
That's where a man like Bruce Cherry can help music fans. With decades of experience in the travel industry Cherry has been running the 'London Rock Tour' since 1989. The tours follow various themes, but can also be adjusted on the fly to suit the musical preferences of the people on the tour thanks to the deep knowledge of the guides - one of whom is still Cherry himself.
But anyone who thinks that pop music tours are not enhancing both the cultural life of London or helping to create trade and tourism to the UK because of the music industry should think again.
With this being the 90th birthday of Queen Elizabeth the Second it is also the day that the prestigious annual Queen's Awards for Enterprise are announced. Access All Areas Ltd, the company behind the London Rock Tour has been awarded the 2016 Queen's award for innovation in international trade.
I asked Bruce Cherry why his organisation won, especially when competing against many larger companies involved in international trade. He said: "We have won it in recognition of the consistent growth we have achieved in 'exports'; in our case, promoting a special tourism service - the London Rock Tour - that has attracted buyers from across the globe."
I know Cherry must be right on this because I have personally travelled just to see a band play live or to go on an historical pilgrimage focused on music. He often meets music fans on his rock tours that have specifically come on a holiday to the UK because they want to see the country where their favourite band formed, and the tour allows them to connect with the specific places that were important to those artists.
Cherry added: "In 2015 we carried around 10,000 people from 71 different nations on our London tours. We garner enthusiastic 5-star reviews on all Internet review and booking sites. While we are nowhere near the quarter-million that flock to visit Liverpool's Cavern Club, what we have demonstrated is that there is considerable untapped demand for music-related product and strong growth potential."
The UK is well suited for this kind of tourism. Only the USA can rival us for such a rich pop and rock heritage and Britain has also played a key role in the career of many famous international artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, and Bob Marley. Combining the rich music heritage of the UK, in particular London, with a vibrant live music scene and there is also the potential to not just attract tourists once, but back again on many repeat visits.
"Whether it's the Rolling Stones 'Exhibitionism'; the celebrations surrounding the 50th anniversary of Jimi Hendrix's arrival in the city; the current 40th Punk anniversary festival; or our own small contribution, London offers a depth and range of experience that no other city can boast. It is a strong motivator for repeat visits. It is a great jumping-off point for touring other UK cities just as rich in heritage," Cherry said.
Cherry is no doubt delighted that the Queen has recognised his own company on her 90th birthday, but this important award shines a light on the enormous opportunity for individual companies in music heritage and for agencies such as VisitBritain to promote the UK globally this way.
Cherry believes the time is right for the UK to take music heritage more seriously: "[the award] may also alert others to the potential. Our corporate mission is to 'identify, protect, preserve and promote' popular music heritage; save important buildings or areas from demolition, have commemorative plaques erected; encourage other micro-businesses to innovate products. The Queens Award will, we hope, inspire others and give greater credibility to our common efforts."
Rock music arguably began life in London. It's great news to see that the London Rock Tour has been recognised this way and as Cherry suggests, let's hope that this is merely the beginning of a new wave of interest in British music heritage.
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